“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” – Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl
I remember it was a little before 9 am. A news alert popped up on my computer at work that a plane had flown into a building in New York City. We had a small television set-up in our conference room. I turned it on, adjusted the antenna and found the Today Show. My office manager and I watched in horror as another plane flew into the second tower of the World Trade Center just as I turned it on.
I had so many questions. Was this the start of a war? Were there other targets? Who was responsible? What did all of this mean? I called my wife. They were closing her office and she was headed to my youngest daughters school to see if they needed help. I asked her to please stay in touch with me.
I was supposed to show a guy some office space at 10 am and called him to cancel. It didn’t seem right given all that was happening to just carry on like nothing was wrong. He was not happy with my decision and told me he would just look at it by himself and I would lose the commission. I told him that was fine and called the other broker that my former “client” was coming without me to look at his listings. “Seriously?” the broker responded. “Isn’t he watching the news?” I don’t know I told him, and if he was he didn’t seem to care.
My business partner at the time came into the conference room and asked if we were going to watch television all day. At first, I thought he was joking but he wasn’t. “You can’t do anything about what is going on” was his response. In my torn mind, he was right and he was wrong. I couldn’t go to New York and help but I could pray, I could send compassionate thoughts to the people involved. Maybe he was right, but something inside of me, something that I had kept bottled up and hidden told me he was wrong.
Again, it just didn’t seem right to go about our business that day given that so many people were not just hurting but dying, a death toll that climbed to 2,997 people, and over 6,000 injured.
I was 40 years old, owned a successful business, and portrayed the façade of the conservative businessman I was expected to be. But what was inside of me was very different from the mask I wore on the outside. My views were more liberal than the conservative people I had to interact with in business and in social settings. But I couldn’t share that. I tried, but every time I did I was knocked down. The old phrase “remember which side your bread is buttered on” always came to my mind. People paid me money because they thought I was like them, thought like them, supported the same ideals that they did and sadly I couldn’t afford to correct them.
I hurt for people, I saw the injustice people experienced because of the color of their skin and their sexuality. I saw the inequality people were subjected too because of the zip code they lived in. But I operated, and paid the bills in a white conservative world, in a red conservative state so I kept my mouth shut, cashed their checks and in the end, I suffered for it and the people around me suffered as well.
9/11 was a turning point for me but sadly rather than embracing my feelings I erased them, I covered them-up. I stuffed them deeper into my soul, in a dark place that I refused to shine a light on. I decided that compassion and empathy for people who were different from me wouldn’t put food on the table or pay the mortgage. The people I worked with, the people I called my “friends” took care of their “own kind” and I decided, for the future and welfare of my family that I would remain in the tribe and keep my feelings to myself.
What I didn’t consider was my own welfare, my emotional and mental health. In the end this decision to live what Parker Palmer calls “a divided life” almost cost me my family, and sadly my life. As Palmer describes; “We hide our beliefs from those that disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change.” That was me, and fortunately after falling and surviving the fall, the old me.
“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.” – President Obama
On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11 and as people try to put their lives back together from Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma I ask that each of you find and develop those seeds of compassion and empathy that lie within each of us. Our hearts should be filled with love, care and kindness. So full there should be no room for hate, sexism, racism, or homophobia. Want to honor the victims of 9/11? Share your grace and blessings with others today, everyday.
“For me and my family personally, September 11 was a reminder that life is fleeting, impermanent, and uncertain. Therefore, we must make use of every moment and nurture it with affection, tenderness, beauty, creativity, and laughter.” – Deepak Chopra